8p9s Roundtable: Pacers Try to Beat the Heat

Apr 11, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) is pressured by Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 98-86. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 11, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) is pressured by Miami Heat center Chris Bosh (1) during the second half at American Airlines Arena. Miami won 98-86. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indiana Pacers face off against their biggest rivals tonight: The Miami Heat. The Heat, with the power of LeBron James, sent the Pacers home in the playoffs in each of the past three postseasons.

LeBron has left to Cleveland, so things have changed. But the game remains big for a struggling, injured Pacers team trying to string together wins for the first time this year. And nothing would be sweeter than doing so against Miami.

We threw up the 8 Points, 9 Seconds bat signal to gather the troops and weigh in on some of the team’s issues heading into the showdown.

How important was the win over the Jazz in terms of the Indiana Pacers continuing to be competitive?

William Furr: The team is going to compete regardless. For the most part, these guys are used to winning and winning regularly. There is not a culture issue here like there may be in some places that lose regularly, and even if they started 0-20 these guys would fight tooth and nail.

Jon Washburn: It was crucial. You could tell by their reactions that David West, George Hill, and the veterans were still emotionally invested in this season and not in the mood to tank. The win gives the current starters/future backups the confidence they need to contribute later in the year. Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio teams have benefited greatly from situations like this where reserves play big minutes in early-season battles and in turn, give them legitimate depth in the playoffs. This can only help the Pacers long term.

Chuck Summers: Pretty important. That six-game losing streak was brutal given how close those games were, so a win to show for their effort has to be a morale maintainer — if not a booster. Most importantly, the win was anchored by a big offensive performance by Roy Hibbert, who needs to be confident and aggressive if that aforementioned losing streak is to be the exception and not the norm.

Tim Donahue: Very. For the most part, everybody comes into a new season refreshed and energized, and that is doubly true for players who are really getting their first chances to prove themselves. The newness makes it easier for teams to keep fighting through difficult situations. However, if that effort isn’t rewarded with wins, it invariably wears on players and coaches alike. Losing becomes expected, and expectation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The Jazz game was important, because only one of the seven games remaining between now and Thanksgiving features an opponent unlikely to make the playoffs. The six-game losing streak matched the longest of Frank Vogel’s coaching career, and missing the opportunity Utah represented would have put the Pacers in a position of wondering when their next win would come.

Should the Pacers try to keep A.J. Price long term?

Furr: No. A.J. Price had a great game and by all accounts seems like a good guy. But he would be a fourth point guard behind two established players and one the Pacers front office really seems to like (Donald Sloan). Keep him around as long as George Hill and C.J. Watson are out, then send him away with a fruit basket or something.

Washburn: I really like the guy, but I just don’t think he’s a better player than George Hill or C.J. Watson. It has yet to be determined whether he is better than Donald Sloan, but Sloan has a little more continuity with this Pacers roster than Price, and Larry Bird would most likely lean toward keeping Sloan if only one of them can stay. Keeping four point guards is probably an unlikely scenario.

Summers: A.J. Price played an incredible game on Monday — one that he claimed was for his basketball life. As inspirational as that is, there is a reason he is playing for his life in a Pacers/Jazz matchup in the first place. He’s a veteran guy who could provide a steady hand at the point, but long term, when C.J. Watson and George Hill are healthy, it’s hard to imagine a spot for Price, as well as Sloan has played this year.

Donahue: There is an immediate, crying need for Price, if the Pacers don’t want to be 10 or more games under .500 a quarter of the way through the season. However, viewed with more perspective, it’s a less urgent matter. Indiana could finish their first 20 games at 4-16, regardless of A.J.’s presence. Further, Price is no better than the third point guard when the Pacer back court is healthy, and he is 28 years old in his 6th NBA season, so there’s no real development opportunity there. Whether the Pacers keep Price or let him go is unlikely to be of significant importance to the future of the franchise.

Without LeBron, Paul George, and Lance Stephenson, does an Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat game still matter?

Furr: There will be a little extra emotion, but it’s still just one out of 82 games. If David West were back, it would be a bit more fun watching him bully the entire Miami front line, but every game is like facing the defending champs to these current rotation of Pacers players; to win, they need 120% effort and a little luck to go with it.

Washburn: It matters, but for different reasons. Even this stripped-down Pacers roster has the Roy Hibbert advantage over Miami, and he needs to maintain his dominance over them. A good game from Hibbert that stays competitive longer than it should could go a long way if and when this team does get healthy and tries to make a playoff push

Summers: Obviously the stakes are not as high, but I would think there is some bad blood still there. Dwyane Wade wore the black hat to perfection the last couple of years — the smirking, arrogant, instigating big brother to the up-and-coming Pacers — and I don’t think the animosity that fostered will be gone because LeBron is. Of course, this could be the type of stuff that fans care about and the players really don’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised by a familiarly chippy game between the two tonight.

Donahue: No, not in the broader NBA landscape. Miami (5-2) is still talented, with the question looming over their season and playoff hopes centering around Dwyane Wade’s durability. The Pacers are not — at least coming into tonight’s game. This game matters for the teams involved in the same way that all of the other games matter to the teams involved in them. However, it is no longer an early preview of an expected Eastern Conference finals. If it draws attention nationally, it will be more of a rubbernecker look-in to see how the mighty have fallen.

Will Roy Hibbert feast on the Miami Heat per usual?

Furr: Yes. Hibbert is on a quest for vengeance not seen since Kill Bill came out. I’m kidding, but Hibbert should do very well against Miami’s “centers,” and may have an extra pep in his step to boot. He could easily wind up with another 20/10 line, though likely in a losing effort.

Washburn: Yes. He will get all the offensive touches he would ever want, and the Heat still have nobody to defend him. LeBron is also no longer there to swarm all over entry passes or drive into Hibbert at the hoop. I expect Hibbert to finish with something like 24 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks on 18 shots.

Summers: Coming off of that 29-point performance on Monday, there’s no reason to believe otherwise. Assuming the Pacers can hit enough outside shots to keep the Heat’s defense from collapsing on Roy on each entry pass, I would expect plenty of points, boards, and strangely aggressive wiping of sweat from the big man tonight.

Donahue: Perhaps. Hibbert’s two best games this season — against Boston (22/11) and Utah (29/5) — came against teams that played behind him and refused to double. Miami is unlikely to do that. Another factor against a big game is the re-emergence of Chris Bosh as an offensive force. Bosh is scoring almost 24 points a night and has also taken at least 2 3s in each game this season, so there is really no one for Roy Hibbert to guard. So the Heat are in a position to keep Hibbert uncomfortable at both ends. They can trap and double team him at one end, then they can spread the Pacers out and leave Hibbert in space at the other. This could cause a lot of problems for both the Georgetown big man and the Indiana Pacers.

Is this the game when the short-handed Indiana Pacers finally get blown out or do they win a second straight?

Furr: Neither. I’m guessing another painful loss, with either Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole burying the Pacers late. A blowout is always possible with the team the Pacers are currently fielding, but I think winning in Miami with third stringers is too tall a task, regardless of Miami losing LeBron or how good the Pacers feel after beating Utah.

Washburn: Neither? I think Indy will keep this one close into the third quarter where a scoring slump dooms their chances at a victory. However, this team just never quits and they may battle back to within 4 or 6 points before ultimately losing in a relatively close game.

Summers: Neither. Even though The Birdman should return to the Heat’s lineup tonight and Bosh’s rebounding numbers have been way up this year, I see the Pacers doing enough work on the boards to keep things close. But the Heat have been playing really well, have too much firepower in the starting lineup, and will pull away late at home.

Donahue: The likelihood of Pacer win is very small. Miami is more talented and playing at home. But the margin is difficult to determine and somewhat inconsequential. With a team as shorthanded as the Pacers are, you must take the “attention span” factor into account. In other words, this Indiana team (on paper) doesn’t really command the attention of their opponents. If you’ve watched the NBA for a long time — or the Pacers for the last three seasons — you’ll be familiar with the ability of better teams to “flip the switch” in regular season games against weak teams. How often during last year’s 16-1 start did we see the Pacers wander through the first half before blowing teams out in the third quarter? While it’s nice to credit Indiana’s relative competitiveness so far this year to the heart and will of the backups, it’s also fair to worry that the lack of blowouts has less to do with anything the Pacers are doing and more to do with their opponents’ attention span.